ISLAMABAD: Pakis­tan skipped a regional security meeting on Afg­han­istan, which had been hosted by Russia, because of its continued objections over Indian participation and concerns that its agenda was much wider than just Afghanistan.

At a weekly media brie­fing, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said Pakistan could contribute more at forums that “contribute constructively” to peace in Afghanistan.

“We will continue to participate in all these mechanisms to their full potential and will continue to engage with our partners to contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan,” she maintained.

The fifth multilateral meeting of the secretaries of the Security Cou­ncils on Afghanistan held in Mos­cow on Wednesday was at­­t­ended by senior security of­­­ficials from India, Iran, Ka­­zakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Rus­sia, Tajikistan, Turkmen­istan and Uzbekistan.

Multilateral meeting on Afghanistan was attended by nine countries

The Russian presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, had during his visit to Islamabad on Jan 25 extended the invitation to Pakistan. The FO had on that occasion emphasised the need for promoting “reg­ional solutions through Moscow Format & neighbouring countries of Afghanistan”.

Mr Kabulov, however, remained under the impression that Pakistan could join the forum. He had, therefore, in an interview with Russian newswire TASS on Feb 3 confirmed that Pakistan had been invited.

Islamabad has not participated in the previous editions of this format even though it has been part of other Russia led initiatives on Afghanistan, including the Moscow Format and the Extended Troika on Afghan Issue.

The trilateral Russia-Pakistan-China consultations were expanded in 2017 to include India and Iran despite Pakistan’s reservations. This expanded format then became to be known as Moscow Format.

“That happened in the past. We will not become part of forums on Afgha­ni­s­tan that already includes India,” an official explained.

Pakistan, moreover, fears that India may use these forums to push its own agenda.

India’s involvement in Afgha­nis­tan is seen here as part of its larger regional ambitions. It is feared that India could use Afghanis­tan as a means of establishing a foothold in the region and projecting its power beyond its borders.

Responding to a question, the spo­­kesperson said no decision on return of Pakistan’s charge d’affaires in Afghanistan Ubaid Nizamani to Kabul had been taken so far. “We are assessing the conditions that are necessary for his return,” she added.

Ambassador Nizamani returned to Pakistan on Dec 5, 2022, a few days after surviving an assassination attempt.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2023

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